The lan­guage of power

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Daniel Finkel­stein

Wem­pha­sishep­u­ton­learn­ing—madeno ef­fort to teach me any of his lan­guages. He didn’t see the value in my learn­ing an­other tongue, even though I could see that the value to him had been great. He just wanted me to be Bri­tish and com­mu­ni­cate flu­ently in English. All of this is by way of say­ing I agree with the Prime Min­is­ter’s in­sis­tence that learn­ing English is an es­sen­tial re­quire­ment of res­i­dence and cit­i­zen­ship. And that I dis­agree with the In­ter­link Foun­da­tion — the strictly Ortho­dox char­ity — say­ing that it is “deeply un­com­fort­able” with what he has pro­posed. In­ter­link runs lan­guage cour­ses for the strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­nity and ob­jects to the link be­ing made be­tween fail­ure to speak English and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, sug­gest­ing that this “stig­ma­tises parts of so­ci­ety in a way that can only in­crease the feel­ings of un­ease and marginal­i­sa­tion of the tar­geted groups”. I’m afraid this only goes to show that one can al­ways find a rea­son to ob­ject to any­thing. It is fail­ure to learn or speak English that marginalises tar­get groups. And they won’t feel un­ease at the Prime Min­is­ter’s re­marks be­cause they won’t be able to un­der­stand what he said, will they?

Ex­cuse me if this sounds flip­pant. It was meant to sound an­gry. The fail­ure to teach or com­mu­ni­cate in English is a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy by those with power in a com­mu­nity to pre­vent those with­out it from be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world. It leaves th­ese peo­ple pow­er­less to make their own choices or to seek help from oth­ers. They are left pow­er­less and de­fence­less. And the idea that they have cho­sen this path is trans­par­ently un­true.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s re­marks were not aimed at the Jewish com­mu­nity. And there is a rea­son for that. The iso­la­tion of some Jews and the re­fusal to in­te­grate does not threaten any­one else.

It is vi­tal to re­mem­ber this. Peo­ple are en­ti­tled to live their own lives and ad­here to their tra­di­tions and prac­tices as long as they don’t harm any­one else. Strictly Ortho­dox prac­tices de­serve pro­tec­tion and de­fence in­so­far as they do that.

Yet I’m afraid the chal­lenge of David Cameron’s speech means the sub­ject can’t be left at that. The in­sis­tence that ev­ery­one be given the free­dom that comes from mas­tery of the English lan­guage and that ev­ery­body should be able to seek the pro­tec­tion of Bri­tish law is un­de­ni­ably right. And if it is right for all Mus­lims, then nat­u­rally, un­de­ni­ably, it is right for Jews.

In our own com­mu­nity, we must cham­pion the right of women, in par­tic­u­lar, to have equal­ity un­der the law and the abil­ity to ac­cess that law free of re­proach. And in English.

Not learn­ing English leaves peo­ple feel­ing de­fence­less

Daniel Finkel­stein is As­so­ciate Editor of The Times

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